AUGUST 23, 2012
Next Monday night at 10:30 pm, Ann Romney is slotted to speak at the Republican National Convention. It is, I suppose, her official presentation to political society, and an important moment in the election season narrative-construction of the Romneys-as-couple. She will tell some heartwarming anecdotes about their marriage, express her admiration for his measure as a man, and talk about how only he can fix the mess the country’s in. Unsurprisingly, the television networks are not convinced that’s going to make for very compelling television. They’re airing only limited coverage of the conventions, and so instead of Mrs. Romney, those who tune into CBS, NBC, or ABC will have their option of “Hawaii Five-O,” “Grimm,”or “Castle,” all variations on the crime procedural. Perhaps if Mrs. Romney came outfitted in a Sherlock Holmes cap they’d carry her speech?
RNC organizers are, of course, upset, and considering moving Mrs. Romney’s time slot. But even that won’t guarantee she’ll show up on viewers’ televisions, if CBS’s Scott Pelley is to be believed. “We also want to cut away when it’s just the scripted, sort of — and I’m searching for a better word than propaganda — but cut away when the convention isn’t providing much information to the audience,” he told the Times. (Do modern conventions ever provide information to the audience?) It seems we’d rather watch third-rate summer reruns than one of the few important political events of the year. All-in-all, it looks like a sad moment for the American experiment, right?
Not at all. Mrs. Romney, if her husband were elected, wouldn’t have any official role in shaping policy. Why does she need to have an official tryout on the national stage as spousal accessory? There is perhaps no clearer signpost of the way that presidential elections have become as much pageant as policy debate than the spousal convention speech. The networks aren’t eroding our civic pride so much as restoring it. This isn’t a monarchy. This is a democracy. And the people just want to watch "Hawaii Five-Oh."